Author: Randa Abdel-Fattah
Publisher: Orchard Books, 2007
Where and why: I bought this from Barnes & Noble because I was curious about it. It's been required reading for a lot of students in the past and I wanted to see why. Plus, it sounded like it would be pretty funny.Does My Head Look Big In This? is about Amal, a Muslim-Australian girl, who decides she is ready to wear the hijab (the scarf some Muslim women elect to wear over their hair). She has to deal with the shock and curiosity of her classmates at an elite private high school, the misunderstandings about her religion and her culture, and a nasty bully at school (who Amal handles quite well, actually). To make matters complicated, this novel takes place in the year after 9/11—racism rears its ugly head, as Muslim Australians were targeted as "terrorists," similarly to how many Middle Easterners were in the United States.
As I was reading this, I had a lot of admiration and respect for Amal, and liked her very much. She seemed like someone I'd want to be friends with. There were points, however, where the language was a bit unbelievable. For example, when her white friend Simone would moan about her weight. It just seemed unrealistic—almost everything she said had to do with her appearance, or if it didn't it would end up there. That got annoying fast.
I really love how Abdel-Fattah gives non-Muslims a glimpse at life in a Muslim family. I learned a lot about the religion, and it made me think about my own religion as well. Amal is a strong defender of her faith and is not ashamed to stick up for herself or Islam. She also really leads her life according to the Koran, which is something I don't see very often (living your life by your religion's Holy Book). Plus she is a feminist, which is just fantastic. I didn't judge Muslim women who wore the hijab before, but now I have a whole new perspective on their decision and a deep respect for them.
I completely understand why this has been required summer reading for the past couple of summers in my area. I really do think students should read this—it will give them a lot of insight and, I hope, a more respectful approach to Middle Easterners and Muslims. Highly recommended for middle and high school.